Welcome back to Realio’s Ratings for the 3rd year in a row. For anyone new, I re-watch, analyze, and critique every Sounders player and the referee for each game, assigning a score based on what I deem to be “MLS Average.” It takes some time to quantify and analyze each result, but when paired with the Community scores should provide some data on how each player develops over the season.
In Houston on March 4, anyone watching that atrocious first half would be hard-pressed to recognize the MLS Cup Championship team. There was a complete, team-wide lack of energy, and too many performances riddled with rust and indecision. The Sounders made some needed adjustments in the second half, and showed the first 45 minutes were not indicative of overall quality. However, after giving up two goals in the first half, the valiant efforts in the second weren’t enough. Seattle ultimately fell 1-2 and started out the season with a loss.
Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 6.5
Being the reigning MLS Cup MVP puts a target on Frei’s back, and Houston was both willing and able to inundate him and his defense with immense pressure on opening day.
Tested early and often in the first half, Stefan made some great saves to keep the game close. In the very first minute, the new-look Dynamo employed consistent high pressure that forced Stefan into the first of several clearances under duress. In the 4th minute he was faced with Romell Quioto 1v1 and made himself a big enough target that the Houston striker pushed his shot harmlessly into the stands. A mere three minutes later Frei had to dive and fully extend to push away a shot, after a terrible Lodeiro turnover gave Ricardo Clark an open shot from the top of the 18.
In the 20th minute after a poor foul gave Houston a well-positioned set piece, Stefan looked like he lost faith in his wall. He set up a five-person wall to his right, but still cheated that direction and Cubo Torres made him pay for it, putting a low drive to Frei’s left which the Sounder keeper was unable to parry. I bet he discussed that with the staff at halftime. Five minutes later amidst a 3v5 breakout for Houston, Frei was stellar, stuffing the attack. A brave punch clear in traffic to end the half was Stefan’s last really strenuous play, and a reorganized defense limited the Dynamo to two shots in the second period.
Stefan’s distribution was bad at times, and with the team looking to go short on goal kicks, an adjustment must be made vs. high-pressing teams. Good news: Stefan appears to be completely healed from the ankle injury received while training with the USMNT and other than a minor hiccup was only beat via a world class long distance strike.
Joevin Jones – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 7.6 (MOTM)
Joevin looked great in pre-season and he carried that right into the game on Saturday. He did struggle in the first half, like many teammates, but still managed to be dangerous when presented with opportunities. He completely dominated the second half when a few tactical positioning adjustments let him loose to terrorize the left wing.
Jones started out rough, with a turnover on his first touch followed by failing to close down A.J. DeLaGarza in the 2nd minute which allowed in a dangerous cross. A minute later he struggled to close down a wide-open far post run. Joevin grew into the game, though, and started to get into the attack, albeit with poor results from crosses until a 25th minute low one nearly found Morris for a goal.
The second half was a lesson in dominant wing-back play. Jones was everywhere, and the catalyst for nearly every successful Seattle attack. Whether it was bombing forward via the dribble and picking out crosses, or stretching the defense and creating huge gaps for Lodeiro to find in the attack, Jones was a revelation. A new wrinkle has been added this year: a nifty outside of the foot near toe-punch shot Jones debuted in the 51st minute, nearly beating Houston keeper Tyler Deric. In the 55th it was a nice trap from a Deric punt followed by a 40-yard dribbling dash through the defense that enabled a good Seattle chance. Three minutes later it was again Jones dominating the left side, this time his devastatingly accurate cross to the six-yard box popping out to an opportunistic Dempsey to cut the Houston lead in half. Joevin nearly had an assist in the 72nd after his diagonal cross found Nico on the backside for a shot to the side net.
Jones wasn’t all offense either, showing up multiple times with perfect 1v1 defense on the left side, often quickly transitioning these plays forward. His crossing was superb, and I was impressed with both the consistent quality of the final ball as well as his ability to mix up his attacking angles. This was an incredibly promising start to what could be a huge season for the young left back.
Chad Marshall – 6 | Community – 6.1
Nearly all of Chad’s notes were from the first half, when Seattle was constantly on the back foot. He had to consistently cover for a giant hole in front of him, and remains masterful at desperation defense. If it wasn’t for his ability to lunge and get his giant body in passing/shooting lanes, this game might have been out of control early.
Chad and Roman were not in sync in the early minutes, but much of that was because the defensive mids were so devoid of shape. This pulled both center backs all over the field, and a speed deficit on the right exacerbated the situation. Throughout I thought Chad did an excellent job, containing Cubo Torres from open space and remaining very calm during a hectic first half. It was clear that Marshall was getting frustrated, however, and in the 23rd he gave up a dangerous free kick coming through the opponent in a situation that didn’t warrant that level of aggressiveness. It again happened in the 33rd, this time via a slide tackle on the edge of the 18-yard box that – while effectively getting the ball – also got the Houston attacker and may have been in the box. Especially after what happened early last year against Vancouver, I expect Marshall to keep his feet there.
The rest of the game was vintage Chad Marshall. He cut off so many angles he got a geometry degree, and when Joevin was pushing high it was Marshall’s mobility and intelligence that released him up the wing. Even forced with a numbers deficit when Houston effectively countered, Marshall played perfect positional defense that made the Dynamo easily predictable.
Roman Torres – 5 | Community – 5.7
This was a rough first game from Torres. Faced with a very aggressive and fast lineup, Torres took a while to adjust to both Houston’s ability to attack through the middle and learning how to play with a right back who struggled with the pace on his wing.
Torres mistimed a jump in the 2nd minute that allowed a free header to Cubo, and a few minutes later a terrible clearance from Roman was immediately shoved back down the middle of the defense. Torres was a bit of an enigma with clearances. Sometimes he was a no-nonsense “clear it out at all costs” player, and other times he was gentle with touch and control. Even when he had time, his play was inconsistent, with hopeful long balls easily stolen by the defense offset by amazing, 40-yard missile passes that put the offense on the front foot.
Torres was heavily involved in both goals against; the first was a sequence in which he headed a ball directly to Houston in the middle and then came through Cubo Torres with an elbow and body when following up the play. This gave a dangerous free kick that Houston converted. On the second goal both Torres and Alonso were slow to react to Romell Quioto in space, and he made them pay with a spectacular shot.
Roman was so dominant last season that I don’t think we should worry, although having consistent outlets in a defensive mid and right back would help to limit his mistakes. In the 94th minute he had every defender’s dream shot to be a hero but couldn’t manage it.
Gustav Svensson – 5 | Community – 5.1 (off 85’)
This was an interesting game to analyze and the Goose™ was quite the study. He had a rough match in the first half for sure, and struggled a lot until making a few adjustments. What was interesting to me was how intuitively he went to the right places in the attack, and a few natural defensive things he did showed very high-level soccer thinking.
The first 25 minutes or so were very rough. Gustav was beat for speed in the 2nd minute, and an easy through ball left him forlornly chasing. Just two minutes later he was again beat behind, with only a poor angle thwarting Houston’s attack. I thought he deserved yellow for a deliberate hand ball in the 16th that was an attempt to stop another break after he was beat. Even when Svensson played good positional defense (like in the 22nd) Quioto still managed to get dangerous crosses in around him. Gustav was caught diving in on the wing, and he had a poor back pass that put Torres under more pressure than necessary. Throughout this entire struggle, Goose intermixed wonderful crosses into dangerous spots in the 6th and 9th minutes, and every time he was in the attack his decision-making was great. After a Sounders turnover in the 25th he alertly stepped up to prevent any counter, and actually won possession back.
The second half saw some positional changes and Gustav didn’t get into the attack as much, but instead played part of a 2-3 man backline which more than held their own. I liked how Marshall and Svensson worked together in the back. Multiple times these two were faced with upwards of five Houston attackers and they easily handled the pressure. I was impressed by their movement and intelligent utilization of positioning and offsides; they covered seamlessly for each other. I am not sold that Goose is the answer at right back for us, but the second half should give Sounders fans some hope that he’s a quality option if necessary.
Cristian Roldan – 5 | Community – 5.7
The defensive midfield downright stunk in the first half. As good as Roldan looked in preseason and practices, he may as well have met Alonso a week ago, they played so out of sync. This was horribly detrimental for the entire defensive shape, and their struggling combined with Houston’s formation and game plan put way too much pressure on the Seattle defense.
Other than a decent switching pass, all my first half notes on Cristian were negative. Many of the errors were positional, with Alonso and Roldan both square and high, allowing a single pass to split open the center of the Sounders and any attack to flow directly down the middle of the field. For some reason Cristian was higher than Dempsey on multiple occasions in the first half, and his passing/decision making was poor. Other times he was the end of a nice spell of possession when an ill-advised chip towards Morris ended up harmlessly at the foot of a Houston player. In the 26th minute for some reason Roldan chased the ball to double-team with Jones during a counter attack, leaving a 40-yard stretch of the middle of the field empty. This kind of decision-making is so outside Cristian’s normal play I can’t explain it. At times, he struggled to be noticed as well, getting lost on the field as an option.
The good news is the second half was a complete 180 in the center of the pitch. Suddenly the defensive mids were in sync, and as you might guess the team looked immensely better. Now Roldan was holding the ball and finding quick passes, and was still able to close down wide play that had been leaking Houston opportunities. Soon we saw several vintage Roldan slaloming runs through traffic. He was popping up as an option going forward, and also making defensive plays to stop attacks. As bad as the first half was, Roldan still ended with a 91% passing completion rate and two key passes, which is outstanding and a testament to a much improved second half.
Osvaldo Alonso – 5 | Community – 5.8
The first half of this game was also extremely bad for Alonso. He frankly looked like he was still hurt and everything about his play screamed “I haven’t had an offseason and I’m still out of shape.” Yet just like Roldan, somehow Ozzie flipped a switch at half time and looked fine in the second half, showing no egregious fitness issues.
It seemed like every pass from Alonso was bad in the first half, whether it was dropping back to get a short goal kick and fumbling it away, or being unable to get anything through to Nico or Clint. Even more alarming was how high Alonso was, being caught out with a pass creating a 3v2 behind him for Houston in the 2nd minute. In the 6th minute Ozzie completely lost a mark in the box that was lucky not to hurt the score line, before trying a blind volley switch attempt that was also fortuitous not to turn into anything scary. Alonso did some good things in the first half: a 27th minute shot from distance was well struck and an incisive pass to Dempsey on the top of the box in the 32nd was great. It’s telling, though, that it took until the 37th minute to note the first time that Roldan/Alonso combined to destroy a central attack, something that was commonplace last season.
Ozzie found a second wind at halftime; he was nearly perfect after the break and a huge part of the Seattle resurgence. He had 111 touches on the night and even though he blatantly turned the ball over by passing to Houston on more than one occasion, he ended up with an impressive 91% passing efficiency number.
Alvaro Fernandez – 6 | Community – 4.8 (off 76’)
Alvaro has been getting kicked around the forums lately and it’s a shame. He was one of the only players to play well in the first half and his hustle and controlled play was a huge benefit to a team that came out flat. Flaco wasn’t perfect, and there weren’t a ton of flashy notes about his play, but he had the second most tackles on the team and got a shot on goal. That shows some pretty nice two-way play for a guy who deservedly should be the 4th or so option.
In the 4th minute Alvaro checked nicely to the ball and found Dempsey in an advanced position, and five minutes later he neatly floated into the box to win a header, but was unable to get enough power on it to trouble the Houston keeper. On multiple occasions Flaco created a nice drop angle for Morris with his back to the goal, and Fernandez looked often to spring Clint after these plays. In the 30th minute he pressed high, winning possession in the attacking third and then when Seattle turned it over showed great hustle to sprint 70 yards to help Gustav on defense in the corner.
Alvaro definitely struggled at times, getting muscled off the ball in the 18th and sending a number of bad passes. Some of this may have been due to team-wide rust and unfamiliarity with some tendencies. On more than one occasion he passed the ball directly to Houston, obviously expecting different movement from teammates. All told, Alvaro was solid and some of his movement will likely be better rewarded with results as this team gels.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 6 | Community – 6.3
On first viewing I thought Nico was particularly poor. Second watch alleviated some of these concerns, but what looked like rust in the preseason is still apparent in his play. Lodeiro looks a step off from his teammates and is not connecting as well as at the end of last year.
Nico followed up a failed attempt to dribble through traffic that started a Houston attack with a poor corner kick that did the same in the 4th and 6th minutes. His night didn’t improve a minute later when an uncharacteristically poor touch dribbled off his foot and right to Ricardo Clark for a shot that forced full extension from Frei. Most of the rest of the first half was unmemorable for Nico, and while he moved a lot he was unable to unlock teammates. In the 43rd minute he had a terrible pass towards Dempsey that was stolen, and while he and the Sounders watched, Houston charged down the field and scored.
In the second half Nico got more and more involved, ending the game with a team high 11 touches and a respectable 84% completion rate. Both of his key passes came in the second half when Lodeiro was everywhere. Floating from side to side, Nico just kept pushing, especially paired with an attacking Jones on the left wing. Time and again these two would pull Houston out of shape and get dangerous crosses into a diving Morris. Nico’s touch still looks slightly off, and he just barely missed putting Morris in on goal on numerous occasions, but you could see him build off of every positive touch, literally running circles around Houston late. Lodeiro almost scored in the 72nd, when a Jones (who else?) cross found him far post for a lunging effort. Hopefully another week of practice will see these “almosts” turned into goals.
Clint Dempsey – 7 | Community – 6.5
Anyone who didn’t see Dempsey in preseason may be surprised, and his opponents are probably worried. He looked like he hasn’t missed a beat, showing his usual flair while playing a surprising 90-minute shift. Oh, and he scored.
I loved seeing the intelligence of our attackers in intermittently pressing, and Clint and Morris sneakily forced a number of turnovers by choosing smart times to push. As usual Dempsey is a great pressure release valve as well, holding the ball and giving a beleaguered back line some breathing room early. In the 10th minute Clint over hit a pass that would have put Morris in on goal and changed the entire complexion of the game. I was most impressed by Clint’s intensity against Houston, noting him losing the ball in the 14th but chasing through the midfield to push Houston back, and later an incredible hustle play late from someone I didn’t think would even be on the field at that point. With Roldan going down near the opponent’s box from a high elbow and Goose high in support, it was Clint Dempsey of all people who ran all the way back to his own 18, tracking Quioto to cover defensively in the 80th minute!
Clint didn’t light up the notebook with fantastic plays, but I was very happy with his movement. He already has a GREAT understanding of Morris, and time and time again would be found in any pocket of space that Jordan created by his runs. Often with Jordan diving near post Dempsey was behind to both pull the defense and take advantage of this space. This is exactly what happened on his goal; Dempsey read Morris and Flaco movement perfectly and found himself unmarked on the back side. Flawlessly composed, Clint controlled and finished near post with a goal that he made look much easier than it was (“Simplest of finishes”). Dempsey looks both back and already ahead of fitness schedules. This is great news for Sounders fans.
Jordan Morris – 7 | Community – 5.9
Watching live I thought Morris had a fairly poor game, or at least was invisible. The re-watch removed this thought completely. On the second viewing I saw the guy continuously make great runs, with movement that shredded the Houston defense and pulled giant pockets of space behind him.
It did take 10 minutes or so for Jordan to get his first touch, with which he immediately opened up the field. His run later in the 10th was perfect; unfortunately, Dempsey’s pass was not. Two minutes later Morris showed his WOW pace, blowing past a distance defender to track down the ball past two Houston players and turning an innocuous Jones clear up the line into a dangerous over the top pass. In the 25th Jordan again showed both great instincts and pace to split two defenders and dive near post, only to have the ball float over him in what was a sure goal if he makes contact. He would repeat this near post run all night, and it paid off in the 58th when his movement opened up Dempsey behind him for a goal. This run is begging for low hard crosses or cutbacks in behind the space, both of which Jones found consistently.
Morris struggled at times with his touch, and he looks to have ducked out of the way of the goal (not sure I blame him). There are a couple of times where he killed promising attacks with losses of possession or poor decision-making, and in the 83rd with space in front of him he instead tried a cross field pass to Bruin that was woefully short. There was little evidence to support him starting on the wing. In fact, 80% of his negative marks, and almost no positive ones, came after he moved to the wing.
Will Bruin – 5 | Community – 5.2 (on 76’)
Bruin came on and we got to see his first play as a Sounder. This moved Morris to the wing, and frankly, it didn’t work. Watching Morris’ impact go from positive to negative in minute 77 combined with Will showing very little means that (at the least) this idea needs more training time. In the 77th with Morris chugging full steam ahead, Bruin was lost, running right across his vision and helping to stunt a break. After that Bruin had a lot of positive movement, but little impact on the game. Somehow he was credited with a key pass, and had a great breakout run that Morris missed but he was on the field for nearly 20 minutes with a grand total of four touches.
Bruin is a quality player, and I think he will do good things here. He needs more time to figure out where he fits in the offense and hopefully he can improve his chemistry with teammates.
Henry Wingo – 6 | Community – 5.5 (on 85’)
Wingo played less than 10 minutes but got eight touches with two key passes. That is great production from a late “energy” sub. He completed passes 75% of the time and showed both pace and a strong eye for passing angles. Both of his crosses found teammates in good positions. There was a lot to like in this brief debut.
Ricardo Salazar – 7 | Community – 5.1
I don’t know what to expect from MLS referees this year so “MLS Average” is hard to rate, but I thought Salazar very good compared to last year. He was consistently in good position and yet wasn’t overzealous with his whistle or cards. There was a lot of advantage played, but this didn’t lead to any heightened physicality and we were treated to a fairly clean match that flowed from end to end.
There were several minor issues with Salazar, and he missed one or more elbows to Roldan’s face (6’, 80’). In his defense the AR was right there and should assist but that AR rarely called anything. It was hard to judge intent on these plays, but the 80th minute one looked like Leonardo threw Roldan down by the neck. A yellow card on Svensson might have been warranted for a deliberate hand ball when he stopped play on the sideline when beat, but the yellows on Marshall and Roman Torres were soft. Roman’s was originally very confusing as Salazar motioned for persistent infringement but on the re-watch there were a few occasions that he got out of fouls via advantage calls or verbal warnings. Still it came out of the blue and considering how much Cubo was diving around, both Sounder yellows could have been kept in the pocket.
The free kick Houston scored from was a good call, and in general I thought Salazar did well to protect players while keeping the play fluid. He even called obstruction, which is rare for MLS.
HOUSTON DYNAMO MOTM:
Romell Quioto was causing problems for the Seattle defense all night, and went ahead and scored a long-distance golazo, so it’s no surprise he garnered nearly two-thirds of the vote for Houston Dynamo man of the match:
It’s hard to start the season with a loss, but in the second half the team that so dominated late last season showed up. It appears our championship team just needed some halftime coaching. We can’t continue to start slowly, and we definitely have to play much better to have any chance in Montreal next week, but there was enough good to allow me to remain optimistic. This is a team that improved with every minute in the second half and should continue to improve as players get more fit and more comfortable with each other.